On this day … 4 March 1656

Charles Worsley
Charles Worsley (1622–1656) by unknown artist © Manchester City Art Galleries

A meeting was held in the great chamber at the Bull Inn in Church Street (now the Bull and Royal) before one of Oliver Cromwell’s major-generals at which Presbyterian ministers launched an attack on the district’s Quakers.

Cromwell had introduced direct military government the year before, dividing the country into regions, each governed by a major-general. Lancashire, Cheshire and Staffordshire made up one of those regions, ruled by Major-General Charles Worsley, who presided at the hearing at the Bull. The major-generals were the men who tried to ban Christmas. Their rule was universally unpopular, and short lived.

In December 1655, Worsley had told Cromwell’s secretary of state that he was ‘extreamly trobled’ by the activities of Quakers in the north-west, ‘He informed him that there were large numbers of them in his counties and that they “troble the markets and get into private houses up and down in every towne and draw people after them”.’

At the hearing, charges, not specified, were brought against the Quakers by the ministers. Worsley was initially hostile to the Quakers and, according to them, in his ‘opening speech showed a strong bias against Friends, due to the information given him by envious ministers’.

The Quakers defended themselves against the charges laid against them and, if the reports left by the Quakers present are to be believed, his attitude towards them softened to such an extent that the ministers left in disgust.

The next morning, the Quakers called upon Worsley in his chamber, where:

… he was very loving to them, and confessed he never saw the like meeting so Christianly carried on: and said he had received full satisfaction in all things, and further said of his own accord if anything came against us he would act nothing before he had acquainted us with it. And he further said he expected all those things would have been proved against us, which now he sees the contrary, and that many things are cast upon us which is not true, and said he would take equal care to protect us as upon any other.

The Quakers had good cause to be concerned for their safety. One of Preston’s Presbyterian elders at this time was Edward Rigby, son of Alexander Rigby of Middleton Hall in Goosnargh. ‘Elder’ is something of a misnomer, for Edward was still in his twenties at that date.

As a county magistrate after the Restoration he persecuted Quakers and other dissenters mercilessly, as the following report attests:

Freckleton. 1676. Thomas Tomlinson, Henry Tomlinson and John Townson on Warrant by Edward Rigby of Preston had their goods distrained. Rigby who is described as “a persecuting justice” is said to have declared that “he would root the Quakers out of the Hundred where he dwelt; that all the Laws yet made against them were too short; and that he would be the first that would move for a Law to have them tied to and dragged at either an Horse’s or Cart’s Tail”.

His son, Charles, was also a magistrate, and in 1717 was strongly upholding the vicar of Lancaster in his prosecution of the Quakers there.

Dictionary of National Biography sources are accessible on line with a Lancashire Library membership

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